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Monday, December 10, 2007

A Report From The Couch: Introduction to Why Men Watch Football

by Bob Andelman

"It's a brutal sport; I never play it. You've got to be an idiot to play. But I love to watch."

Larry Selvin
Financial accountant,
West Roxbury, Massachusetts

My attorney is a transplanted Washington Redskins fan who roots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by default -- they're the only game in town. Rick Georges loves football. He's been a Bucs season-ticket holder for years, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. He drives to home games in an RV fitted with a satellite dish on the roof so he can watch pre-game shows while tailgating at Tampa Stadium. When the Bucs game is over -- by the third quarter most Sundays -- he, his wife, Julie, and their daughter Nicole repair to the RV to watch more football -- preferably a 'skins game -- while the parking lot clears out.

If the Bucs are on the road, Rick is ready at home. He's got a dish on the roof; inside, all the sports channels are locked into remote-control memory. He merrily zaps from one geosynchronous orbit to the next without getting out of his La-Z-Boy. Rick's Super Bowl parties are remembered as much for his video toys as his pouting if Washington gets creamed.

Rick was the first person to whom I posed the question: Why do men love football?

"I think it's because we're not allowed, in this female-dominated society, to act out our aggressions," he said. "Plus, I like the colors of my team."

I knew this book was going to be fun.

Why Men Love Football was written to counter the explosion of self-absorbed "Iron Belly" men's literature that suggests real men get in touch with their feelings only by walking into some remote woods, strapping on a drum and getting buck naked with a bunch of sweaty, overweight executives who left their manhood locked up in a corporate vault.


Real men adorn themselves in NFL-licensed tribal colors, drive to the nearest stadium, multi-video sports bar or just park themselves on the couch. They chant -- Deee-fence! -- elbow to bent elbow with a bunch of sweaty, overweight guys who pack their manhood in their Fruit of the Looms. They know the enemy isn't within; it's the rude dog out-of-towners down on the field.

This book shares the real-life experiences of men and football, drawn from dozens of interviews in every corner of the United States, plus expert testimony by a nonpareil team of nationally recognized sport psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists who provide color and play-by-play analysis.

While the fans -- who hang their emotions on the sleeves of the team they follow -- share intimate details of their football lives, the experts look at the individual and his motivation. They also discuss how sport reflects what goes on in our society.

"Some people say I'm too involved in football," attorney Peter Hendricks says. "Better than being addicted to the racetrack, wouldn't you say?"

Over and over I asked the question: Why do men love football?

"I think it is a metaphor for society," says Dr. D. Stanley Eitzen, a professor of sociology at Colorado State University. "Let's say you are an anthropologist and you want to go into some society and you don't understand it. You could look at the games people play as a shorthand way to understand that society. Who is playing them and who is not? Who is on the sidelines? Who is in charge? What kind of behavior are they doing? Is it violent? Is the emphasis on strategy rather than physical skills strength? Is this a male- or female-oriented society? You could see what happens at the event. Do they have a patriotic thing at the beginning or is there a prayer?"

Dr. Allen L. Sack, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the sports management program at the University of New Haven (Conn.) who played defensive end for Notre Dame during its 1966 championship season, also took the challenge.

"You find out why they think they watch football," he said. "Then you can talk to us to find out why they really do and try to decide whether we are simply arrogant and out of touch or whether we have something to contribute."

One more time: Why do men love football?

"I've never been asked that question before," Chicago Bear Report managing editor Larry Mayer said. "Except by my wife."

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